Letter to all, 03-29-02


March 2002

Constructive criticism is difficult to get. Any sort of criticism is lost in attempts to say pleasing things. But, finally, a suggestion to teach songs on the radio English program. We'd already been thinking of a piece on animals, so added in "Old Mac Donald". It had to be cut down as the animal list started to get a little long. Need lion and elephant because those are names used for wrestling titles, but ditched giraffe. Left in frog for my student Odgerel. He saw his first frog at a spring in the countryside with my father and brother. Then the translation of the song. We asked some kids what sound a duck made, but they didn't know. American dogs say bow wow or woof, while Mongolian canines express themselves with khow khow. So, we went for a transliteration on the animals, with an explanation in Mongolian. Then the frayed nerves of Pat and I almost lost our tempers over the very difficult with a quack, quack here and a quack quack there. I felt it should be treated as a noun, not quite sure what it was with, the farm?, but we ended up just giving up and saying here a quack quack, there a quack quack. Our Mongolian co-host, Otgonburen, speaks less English than Pat and I Mongolian. Sometimes were not sure if she types something just cuz we said it that way or it truly is that way in Mongolian. And trying to ask if such a strange sentence is correct didn't make sense to her, because the sentence isnt really real. But then the recording of the lesson brought so much needed laughter. I had to leave the room as Pat clearly enunciated Old-Mac-Don-ald-had-a-farm-e-I-e-I-o. And Odgo deadpanned nactai macdonald farmtai baisan e-I-e-I-o. And the here a quack, had me psycho giggling in the hallway. We even had the DJ and poker face Pat busting out laughing. There were even not minded hold ups from preemptive laughing when we knew what the next line would be. Ah, a joyous memory, that lost too much in what finally hit the airwaves, Im sure. Due to power outages Britney Spears Lucky had appeared jinxed in being unrecordable after 4 tries.

March 7th. Open a new bottle of vitamins. 100 tablets. 100 days left till I finish my service. Chance governed by fates muse Tom. March 8th marks International Womens Day, but seems to only be celebrated in Mongolia. I recorded two women on my short jaunt to the States telling about their lives as women in business. Translating was occasionally difficult (the good ole boys club = ?) but interesting for Nergui, my Mongolian teacher helping with translation. She read the womens parts and the DJ my interview questions, for a radio program. They also interviewed one Mongolian woman. I also loaned some music from a student plus some of mine (Dar Williams!) to the station so the radio could play all women artists on that day. I'd asked if this would be koshur and the DJ said it was cool (not in such terms of course). And school wide students wrote poems about their mother to be read on the radio. The big day- I heard men, no interview, no poemsyasen?! What happened?! The Mongolian tape of interviews was destroyed I was told two days later. I ask my teacher about a follow up, but she replies with the all too common I don't know, the DJ knows. A variation of I don't know, you know. Which I now find myself often using when I don't want to make a decision. Authority is given, unquestioned, unchallenged. I want it to be a Mongolian thing, but also want to just do it so I know it will get done. There was great interest, and I don't believe I pushed it on them, but theres so little motivation. But the town did organize a womens celebration-volleyball. Yeah. Yip. Fun But I asked what does volleyball and vodka have to do with women? Such a bitchy feminist I can be. One Saturday was a community wide competition. The next Sat was just my school. I was a featured attraction, hadnt touched a volleyball in a year, but I think they enjoyed heckling me more. But I left a special room I had been called into after the game. Fed up with the jackass high school bullshit peer pressure with the damned vodka. The taste is nasty. Everyone grimaces. Many only sip then try to pass, having the glass refused to be passed and pushed at them till they down it. All at school of course. So, I walked down the hall to the other classroom with my beer. In class I did a Women's Day lesson with the 6th and 8th graders. Im avoiding 7th grade these days. Teacher difficulties, not my students. It was a lesson adapted from the Life Skills manual. On the board I wrote woman on one side and man on the other. I had cards with the words: make a fire, get water, have a baby, milk animals (a bit of humor came out of this since Mongolians use 2 words for animal, one for domestic and one for wild, so it sounds funny to say youll milk a snow leopard for instance), sew, cook, look after children, look after animals, kill sheep (lots of giggles as I mimicked the belly slash, aorta snap, style of killing, especially since its not a usually talked about topic), clean the house, ride a horse, catch horses (catch having a different word when referring to horses = maybe lasso?), woodwork, fix things, doctor, teach, get water, wear cosmetics (literally in Mongolian = paint ones face. I used cosmetics because its a known Russian word), and make money. First we went over the cards, teaching a few new words. Telling the kids they were to think what does a woman do and a man do. I then handed out the cards. After a few moments to think, I had everyone go to the board and stick their cards. Not telling them they could put it in the middle. As I explained to my teachers, students need to be able to think beyond what the teacher says. I said man-woman, but did not disallow a both. But kids too often simply take what the teacher says as absolute law. I am guessing kids in America would quickly argue the stark 2 choices, but I could be wrong. Only 1 6th grader even asked. A few 8th graders placed in the middle. One class even deciding to do the whole exercise with a scattered gradation across the board. It was a good vocabulary reinforcing lesson as I then went over each word again asking if it needed to be moved to man, woman or both. Some arguments arose about this. I questioned if men really do clean, as I'd never seen it. Then I asked them to change the board according to what men and women can do. After reiterating can not do, all that was left to women was have a baby. Though a few protested that men could wear cosmetics. I allowed debate in Mongolian as we went thru again. Can men have a baby? Giggles. no. why? Almost unstoppable giggles. But I wanted them to give a reason for their views. And this is an easy one to start with. Finally we got saugui (no vessel/container the word for uterus and any vessel) K. Men cant, simply because the body is different, no matter how much they want to. For the men only, it varied slightly, but was almost always that only men could: kill sheep, catch horses, and do woodwork. The debates lasted long. I tried to encourage only one person talking, but I was with a Mongolian teacher, and didn't always want to be stopping for translation. If I did such an exercise again I would sit down and discuss how to lead discussions with my teachers more before class. Also, the leaving them in one place or moving them in no way constituted a final answer. There are very distinct different Mongolian cultures here. It was often referred that some countryside women could do these things, especially if they had no men in the family. Even after repeated reminders that we now talked of can not do, so tradition was a do only reason, kill sheep remained a man only can. Some said: women give life so cant take it, women are afraid to, it is a horrible chore, women don't have the skill, or women can because they have two hands, or can hit the animal on the head. To catch horses was a debate on strength and wood work was a debate on skill. Though men were said to be able to sew. I and my Mongolian teacher found it very interesting. I had to remind Bayarmaa to only facilitate and not debate herself. I believe the students enjoyed it also. I asked at the end why there are things only men or women do, but most things both can. My teacher and I were walking in the hall and heard students continue to discuss these things. Great lesson! All the more so because there is very little in debate skills in this still communist-socialist minded community.

Saturdays. In Mongolian khagas odor (1/2 day, for 1/2 rest). Many group activities are done on this day. On III.2 there was some sort of health awareness day. Friday had snowed, but Sat was clear and the chill didn't stop loads of kids and adults from congregating just North of town on the steppe. They competed by class or profession in tug of war, weightlifting (a 16kg. ball with a handle, the group counted how many times you could raise it above the head-safety issue?- the girls couldn't lift it more than once- can vs. do?), football (soccer for the American readers), a race, and side play of jump rope, red rover, a sort of ring around the rosy/spin the bottle, volleyball (Mongolian circle style), and of course snow ball fights. Theres so little for kids to do in town it was good to see them all out playing together. Especially some of my boys who are usually amusing their slack time with booze and cigs. And for the love of competition 8th-10th graders of my school had a volleyball competition III.16. Some games were dull. Each class had a girl and boy team, not always the best of players. But I knew lots of the kids and cheered them in English. Some asking for translations (go boys = ?, kick their ass = ?) I told a student of mine he taught me a new word as he said it often when he made mistakes. Couldnt get a translation from my appalled teacher. (Later with Pat and his girl Oko I find its a Russian word for female anatomy. The Mongolian nice reference is literally womans gift to man or mans gift to woman respectively.) Some guys were a lot of fun to watch play. The girls cheering Bataa che shu! (Bataa you go!) Screams! Gasps! Unusually tall boy, always tipping over the net edge. Daring unreserved dives. Missed balls in the midst of pointed fingers. Hit the ceiling-dead play. Points given regardless of the server. Played 2 days ALL day- as went up tree of competion. Chastising help from Sideline teachers. It was teachers pride to have students play well, and joking bench rivalry went on. I took pride in a team of boys I'd taught last year. They asking me to just wait a bit longer for their next match. A bit usually means a short time, but in Mongolian that could translate into hours. As teachers we got our own cramped space of the single row of benches that ringed the court. Students sat on laps and the floor leaning between knees, toes over the court lines. Odkhuus team won 4th. Monkhbayars team won 1st. (the boy is also considered the best singer in our aimag, and gets good grades, and is nice, I hope he doesnt grow up into a typical Mongolian man) The only downer to all this was that an often sluffed off Olympic English prep class was also on this day. The test results are very important to teacher and students and the top students are know by all for many years. Its talked about well in advance, but no energy is put into the preparation class. I chastised one teacher as I had to fetch her several times to help explain some grammar. Telling her by her show of what's more important to her, the kids see sports as the priority. Pat and I often vent over the huge emphasis on competition, especially non-academic, and student actual learning seems to be low on interest. I feel like such a bitch sometimes, but then feel Im here to set an example. And if commenting that a teacher shouldn't be over 20 min late to a 40 min class is culturally a no no then I'll just go back home. Speaking of America. The Foreign Language concert is coming up. So my teacher chose America the Beautiful for my 5th graders. She doesnt understand why I don't know the words. And damn thats a hard song to sing! But it is beautiful. All my editing of tapes from a Christian group in Japan to avoid teaching Jesus songs felt hypocritical as I had my kids saying God, no not Jod, too many times to get clearer pronunciation. But I suppose thats an extreme to get not get too funked about. Its jut the environment I'm in as a volunteer in a foreign developing country has given me a different view towards freedom of evangelism.

Side thoughts:

-III.15 I finally told Soogees friends that I'd teach them English. They'd been bugging me for months. They chose the time. Yet once again no shows.

-I try the computer 5x in one day, but am always unable to use it. The woman with the key is in her driving class, then her English class, another teacher is on it (he has a computer but it doesn't have a printer or floppy disk drive), later he's still on it, then I get my chance, but the file of text turns to nothing but squares when I save it. I can't find a virus scanner. I think the computer man removed it. Hes the only computer guy in town and is starting to seem mafiashly monopolistic. But this could just be Pat's conspiracy paranoias infecting me.

-I gave out ice cream, 5, to go with a reading in 6th grade. They cost T100 a piece, so the 5 added up to less than a beer. But my teacher was concerned who would pay.

-Suugee went to UB to pray at a nunnery because his hand has been sick with a sore for a long time. Then on one of the doomed to be continuously postponed Lucky (as in Britney) days I went to Pat's school. They were having a dance competition. Which had of course needed classroom time sacrifice for practice. Pat had gotten deemed a judge. There was later score fudging wanted by the Mongolian judges to help out the organizing teachers class win. Why judge at all then? There were about 8 groups, each of which was to perform about 5 different dance styles. I slipped in, and was promptly given a seat that had probably held 3 students before me. During an interlude game: boys picked up girls over the threshold style, and amongst 5 couples they saw who could hold her up the longest. Rather tame relatively to most games. Then the Latin style dances. All groups, except 1, used the same music. Not a wide selection down here. They were pretty good at times. But most had to the same moves. Still, it is good for them to have something to do. Theyd put together costumes, and making (and remembering!) 5 differen't routines has got to be hard. Me always preaching about motivation, but I've never even tried to put together a dance routine. There was the one debaucher last year, but a few hours prep doesnt count.

III.19 Pat and I haven't figured out the mystery of weather. Sometimes it's so gust windy as to push me off course as I'm walking. But there's no dust really. Then on tues, a teacher came into my 5th period lesson (school is divided into 6 lessons in the morning 6 in the afternoon.) To tell my kids to go home. A duststorm that was forecast for the night before is now coming. Mongol time style though. This made me a lil nervous. To have school cancelled for a storm? We'd had a dust storm last thurs, III.14, but just mostly wind with occasion sand blasts. Tues started picking up wind at about 10. By 3 it was a full on dust storm. Blocking out the sky. At 4'ish I noted I could only see about 4 rows away. Couldn't see the hashaas(yards) across the open space near my house. (I later talked with my parents on the phone, and mocked their surprise at the sky turning a bit brown in the States from a continuation of this storm. I had no sky here) But it's soft dust. Not brash on the skin, just coats everything. I tried to coax our dog into my ger, but he's been beaten away from grandmas so much he wouldn't enter. And the power went out, again, at 2ish. Suugee and Khadaa were driven over by Khadaas dad to spend the night at my place. School being cancelled and not much else to do.

Sunday. I call it My Day. I try not even to leave the house. If I do I don't stray far. My day to recoup and catch up. Chores every sun:

-sweep: this process needs to be repeated several times. Done with a hand held brush, so I squat walk around my ger. The doormat towel is used to wash the floor.

-make water: this is what I term the process of boiling the water, then putting it in the pc provided filter

-fetch water: I have a 50 liter jug that I put in our little cart and go to the water house. About a 8 minute walk. Its a little cement building that actually isnt a well, like some, but is supplied by a truck. Some say its not as good then. Constantly amused by the edging of bucket tango to get filled next.

-wash clothes: in a tub I spend the whole day sporadically soaking, scrubbing, rinsing, heating water, dumping water, to slightly reduce the dust content of less than a machine loads worth of clothes.

-dump water: my dry sink is fed by a bucket that has a western style ceramic bowl, whose hole dumps into another bucket. Which I then dump into the outhouse.

-make a fire: then carefully tend all day resulting in washing my hands far past their tolerance, fuel consists of boxes from packages sent to me, Newsweeks, PC mailings, coal (mostly dust now), wood (usually broken desks and chairs)

-take out the trash: I only do this every 2-3 weeks. A small plastic shopping bag worth is tied and hung on the fence where, eventually, a troupe comes by in a big truck and takes it far away

-catch up on letters and reading (yeah Newsweek!)

-make visuals for my teachers.

On March 22nd I set out for UB for a Life Skills seminar. Pat's counterpart, Nasanbat, drove us in his jeep with myself, my English teacher, Nergui, and another teacher from Pat's school. We also drove back with him. I paid, but there was uncomfortable confusion as to how much money PC had reiumbursed him with. Nice to have a non-cramped ride with all people I knew though. But it was still a jeep ride. We got in at some icky hour to UB so all crashed on Nasanbats familys floor. Mongol hospitality allows for the necessity of such late night guests. Next night was at Kim's UB Guesthouse. Packed with other seminar bound PCVs. We watched movies together (The Mummy is rather cultishly followed, and Summer of Sam was said to be understood by Monkhlei). I then got to experience the UB Palace dance club for the first time. It was like a Western style club. Live music, with a band singing English songs that I could actually understand, great lights, big place, expensive. Lots of foreigners. Batbileg and Jangar joined us. We also got a show by the best stripper in Mongolia, Ariuna. Unlike most clubs she danced for about 3 songs and she danced really good. For me, the fact hat shes naked is kinda negligible since its just so public. Possibly we were the majority of the group on the edge of the dance floor by our naiveness. This resulted in our group getting the lap dances, and play with eyeglasses. She fussed with some Mongolians, who tried to act as if nothing was happening. Our group had fun. One girl defending her boyfriend from a lap dance attempt. Then there was a large pig that erupted with prizes over the dance floor. All sponsored by Cass the #1 selling beer in Mongolia! I met a Mongolian guy who'd been studying religion in India for the past 5 years. Very interesting club. Then off to the seminar.

III.25-29. Fist we defined the Life Skills in small groups, then compared Mongolian and Foreigner views (not just Americans, we had 1 VSO from the Philippines). Self esteem, communication, relationships, planning, decision making, managing emotions, managing stress, critical thinking, and empathy. Some interesting cultural things came out. For one, most Americans have studied these terms for years and usually had consensual pat answers, whereas Mongolians spent the rest of the seminar in great part learning the Life Skills themselves so they'd be able to teach them. For communication, Vols said connecting while Mongolians used the word understanding others. For managing emotions, Mongolians have the saying to hold the left hand with the right hand (with no double meaning on right). While Vols have the saying put yourself in someone elses shoes for empathy, Mongolians even lack a word and used a description of the term for the word. There is also no Mongolian word for stress; they use a Russian word that is just a transliteration of the English word. I really really like the Life Skills idea. The idea that people often have all the information, but lack the personal strength in these skills to deal with the information. Yes. AIDS is bad, but how to avoid peer pressure, or be strong in using a condom, or not segregate those with the disease is not taught in Mongolian schools now, though the Ministry of Education deemed it should be, the filter down to reality in application lacks. We did many exercises that would be used with students to teach skills. One was very revealing. Participants wear hats with labels expert: listen to me, fool: laugh at me, pretty boy: don't take me seriously, etc. People couldn't see their own label. A free discussion role play. Amazing how people changed how they talked by how people reacted to them. For example the expert, Deeeeeean, didn't really know when the concert would be, but started dispensing vague information. We had languages classes also. One on superstitions. Odd how a shooting star is a wish for Americans, but a symbol of death to Mongolians. But black cats, fence posts between friends, knocking on wood, and ringing in the ear being someone is thinking of you, are all common to both cultures. These sessions also reminded me how poor my grammar is though I can communicate. The participants all seemed very motivated, and there was lots of talk of how to take this back. Bataa, my counterpart, and I felt very lucky as many expressed worries of support, but our principal, Badraa, is very supportive, and open to help and is a man who follows thru on promises. It may be because I was one of the very few M11s, most were m12s, but my counterpart was also my friend. I preferred to hang out with him. And Jangar even drove out to visit us. During my stay in UB I also preferred meeting with Mongolian friends in town. It was later commented on that I'm one of a few who has close Mongolian male friends more than PCV friends. I often find myself in groups of people brought together by a common interest, here PC service. They are good people that I easily get along with but don't feel just because chance does force us all together that we are friends who will click and so I don't always go with the group flow. Nothing against anyone, I just like to do my own thing. As do other PCVs. And there is a chance I can see PCVs again, but may never get to spend time with my Mongolian friends again. So I take this time to be with them. Will I regret not delving completely into PC life? How do I balance? like so many other issues I feel I am leaving before gaining an understanding or feeling of completion.


Mon May 27 15:54:35 PDT 2002